Rev. John R. Cox

Rev. John R. Cox was born to two enslaved parents in Kentucky.  In this excerpt, he tells a story of his mother’s escape from enslavement and how she lived in the wilderness for 2 years before being recaptured and sold.  He then relates how this led her to his father, how they were married and had children together while enslaved, including Rev. Cox.  He finishes up by telling about his education, and the punishment enslaved people sometimes got if they were caught trying to learn to read or write.
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A slave owner, in West Virginia, bought a thirteen-year-old black girl at an auction. When this girl was taken to his home she escaped, and after searching everywhere, without finding her, he decided that she had been helped to escape and gave her up as lost. About two years after that a neighbor, on a close farm, was in the woods feeding his cattle, he saw what he first thought was a bear, running into the thicket from among his cows. Getting help, he rounded up the cattle and searching the thick woodland, finally found that what he had supposed was a wild animal, was the long lost fugitive black girl. She had lived all this time in caves, feeding on nuts, berries, wild apples, and milk from cows, that she could catch and milk. Returned to her master she was sold to a Mr. Morgan Whittaker who lived near where Prestonsburg, Kentucky now is.

Dr. David Cox, a physician from Scott County, Virginia, who treated Mr. Whitaker for cancer, saw this slave girl, who had become a strong healthy young woman, and Mr. Whitaker unable to otherwise pay his doctor bill, let Dr. Davis have her for the debt.

At this time the slave girl was about twenty-one years of age, and Dr. Davis took her home to Scott County, Virginia where he married her to his only other slave, George Cox, by the ceremony of laying a broom on the floor and having the two young negroes step over the broomstick.

Among the children of George Cox and his wife was Rev. John R. Cox, Col. who now lives in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, and is probably the only living ex-slave in this county.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, by President Lincoln, in 1865, John managed to get four years of schooling where he learned to read and write and become very proficient in arithmetic.

He says that had he had the opportunity to study that we have today he could have been the smartest man in the United States. He also says, that before freedom, the negroes in his neighborhood were allowed no books, if found looking at a book a slave was whipped unmercifully.

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Rev. John R. Cox1852 (Carl F. HallDr. David Cox
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Cattletsburg, KYKentuckyUnknown
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Family, Education, LiteracyThird person, slave patrol, whipped, sold (family)